Democratic super PACs generally don’t try to help out Republicans. And that’s especially true for Democratic groups whose entire purpose on this planet is to dig up dirt on their opponents, stalk them with video trackers and try to embarrass the GOP on a daily basis.
And yet, that’s exactly what the latest research project from the Democratic opposition research group American Bridge may do -- though it will be to help Republicans more effectively tear each other apart.
American Bridge's nearly 200-page new research book, dubbed a “Scouting Report” of the 2016 Republican presidential field, is a one-stop shop for controversial quotes, past scandals, questionable business ties and embarrassing photos of likely GOP presidential candidates (and some unlikely ones).
The book, which includes 60 pages of endnotes, is billed as a “media guide” and says its intended audience is “anyone involved in politics,” according to Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who wrote the forward. And that includes the Republicans running for president themselves, according to several people involved in the production of the book. They acknowledged that one goal is to help plant information Republicans might use against each other in what's expected to be a crowded 2016 GOP primary field.
“The beauty of this book is that anyone involved in politics can find a use for it. It can be used as a reference guide for the press or as a playbook for political operatives. And if prospective GOP candidates find it useful to beat the hell out of one another, well, praise the Lord and pass the potato salad,” American Bridge President Brad Woodhouse told msnbc.
Indeed, while the book focuses on lines of attacks you might expect from a Democratic group, it also dwells at length on “problems with the base” several candidates might have. And while rumor has it the best stuff has been left out and saved for later, there’s still plenty that might cause discomfort for anyone about enter a GOP primary.
For instance, the book unearths a letter Texas Gov. Rick Perry wrote to then-first lady Hillary Clinton in 1993, praising her ill-fated project to overhaul the American health care system. The then-Texas agriculture commissioner’s letter opens: “Dear Mrs. Clinton: I think your efforts in trying to reform the nation’s health care system are most commendable.” And it concludes: “Your efforts are worthy ... Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance.”
American Bridge, which has a subsidiary dedicated to promoting and defending Clinton, probably has no problem with Perry reaching out to the former first lady. But former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the rest of the potential Republican field might. Jon Huntsman’s letters to President Obama became a liability for him during the 2012 campaign.
But the other potential 2016 GOP candidates may have their own “problems with the base.”
The research book, for instance, digs up a quote of Bush's saying the GOP needs to get over it’s “nostalgia” for conservative icon Ronald Reagan, and it raises questions about Bush’s ties to a health care company that supports Obamacare.
For Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who ran in 2000, and is reportedly laying the groundwork for another run in 2016, the Democratic group points to Kasich’s “deciding vote” in the House to pass the 1994 assault weapons ban. In fact, the NRA-endorsed Kasich’s Democratic opponent in 2010.
Beyond the conservative blasphemies, there are plenty of issues that could make it into 30-second attack ads regardless of political ideology, from Bush’s work for Lehman Brothers to Christie apparently pulling strings to get out of traffic tickets.
And by putting it out there now, American Bridge is hoping Republicans do some of the dirty work for them against whoever emerges as the Republican nominee.
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After all, it was Newt Gingrich who first went after Mitt Romney for his tenure at the private equity firm Bain Capital in 2012. The former House speaker accused Romney of “looting” companies, while a pro-Gingrich super PAC spent millions to produce and promote a 28-minute documentary titled “When Mitt Romney Came to Town” that portrayed Romney as a heartless corporate raider.
And long before Harry Reid made hay of Romney’s tax returns, Perry and Ron Paul were demanding Romney release more information about his finances.
Opposition research books -- the compiled binders of campaigns’ dirt-digging -- are usually held confidential and protected like a state secrets, sometimes even long after the end of a campaign. But by making its opposition research public now, Democrats can hope some of it gets in the bloodstream early and for free. There may be no better way to define a candidate early ahead of a general election than by getting their primary opponents to do it for you.